While we have been anticipating and preparing for it, it was still a shock when COVID-19 finally arrived so dramatically in our small part of the world. After over six months with no visible presence, and fewer than five confirmed cases locally in that time, it was easy to start believing we were immune.
It has been truly inspiring to watch our Tla’amin Nation friends and neighbours respond to recent events, acting with speed, cohesion and compassion. We are so thankful for their leadership and communication.
It has also been heartening to see most of our broader community come together with gestures of solidarity and support. Local area residents are also responding with action. In the past week we have seen a dramatic jump in the number of people wearing masks and getting tested for potential symptoms.
With undeniably difficult timing, we’ve seen kids go back to school during this same period. And while it has certainly been a challenge for everyone involved, our educators, children and youth have also set a great example for us by learning and adopting new habits and behaviours to stay safe.
In addition to all work visible to the public, there has been a great deal of health care and action taking place behind the scenes. Public Health staff have been working continuously: notifying, informing and calling COVID-19 positive patients for daily check-ins until they are cleared. They have also been responsible for identifying and contacting those who might also be at increased risk of exposure.
People identified as close contacts are notified and required to self-isolate for 14 days. In most people the virus can be spread from 48 hours before, until 10 days after symptoms start. Public Health will not notify people with negative results; these can be obtained online through the BC Centre for Disease Control website, by phone or through your family doctor or nurse practitioner’s office.
Local doctors and nurse practitioners have continued to care for patients with regular support and guidance. The Medical Clinic Associates opened a drive-through testing site last week, open to all residents with symptoms (book online or call ahead). VCH nurse practitioners have done outreach testing in Tla’amin, and Tla’amin Health staff have been on the ground daily supporting those sheltering in place. Even more testing options and services will be announced soon, including an option for saliva testing instead of nasal swabs in school-age children.
In Powell River General Hospital, nurses, staff and physicians have acted on the intensive planning and preparation done in the past six months, caring for many of those affected by COVID-19. We have been supported by an incredibly dedicated leadership team, both locally and regionally. Everyone is doing this work in the face of their own personal fears and on top of their usual workloads. It has been a privilege for us to be part of this coordinated and collaborative effort.
We know there has been deep frustration expressed in our community about how confirmed COVID-19 cases are reported. In BC, data on reportable diseases such as COVID-19 are under the jurisdiction of the BC Ministry of Health and the Office of the Provincial Health Officer, led by Dr. Bonnie Henry. It is the policy of Public Health not to disclose health information that could compromise patient confidentiality unless there is no other way to protect the public.
In small communities, privacy can be particularly challenging. If, for example, we were notified that there was one COVID-19 case in the City of Powell River, can we be certain that no one would attempt to publicly identify that individual? And if privacy were breached, intentionally or otherwise, what would be the harms? Balancing individual and public safety, and protecting personal rights, is no easy task.
According to a statement by Vancouver Coastal Health, there are cases both in Tla’amin and elsewhere in the Powell River area. Further, “all cases of COVID-19 in the Powell River community are associated with known events or contact with known cases.”
It takes time for this virus to incubate and cause symptoms, to get assessed and to confirm a positive test. As a result, it can be up to two weeks before all the cases after an exposure event are counted.
In a pandemic there is always a baseline risk that doesn’t go away, and new sources of this virus will certainly arise. Case counts have value because they can help us to understand trends over time. They can also motivate us to take positive action, and prepare us to care for the sick. Unfortunately, they are not very good at predicting our safety. Our actions do that.
We all want to make informed decisions and to understand our risks. Local physicians will continue to advocate for better communication from our provincial health and political leaders to help us do this. Regardless of case numbers, we will continue to act as if this virus is here and circulating. COVID-19 cases should be expected and supported.
While the full health and social impact of recent events related to the pandemic are still not known, local residents, businesses, health-care workers and public officials have demonstrated an incredible capacity for care and commitment to our community. By following public health guidelines, and supporting each other, we can all make a difference.
For resources, a community newsletter and more, go to divisionsbc.ca/powell-river.
More than ever, please be kind, be calm and be safe.
~ Powell River Physicians COVID-19 Steering Committee